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Money Where Your Mouth Is: “Why Data Visualization Needs To Articulate Performance”

blank logoThe discipline of data visualization (dv) is evolving quickly, but there’s no excuse for leaving behind the first and toughest question: Performance – i.e. the reason we’re here… to change lives. In this brief, well-researched blog post, Lara Mossler of BureauBlank, takes it to the streets, well, the streets of Massachusetts, on the backdrop of an early visualization quantifying the benefits/targets of the recently launched Pay for Success initiative with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, “focused on reducing recidivism and improving employment outcomes for at-risk youth in the Boston, Chelsea and Springfield, Massachusetts areas.” For context, check this HuffPo article from Markets For Good contributor, Ben Hecht, CEO of Living Cities and the visualization on their site. Then read on for Lara’s take on dv and measuring performance. [Orignally posted on

Pay for Success is a simple concept: private investors finance social service programs upfront, and the government does not pay anything unless themass info program works. The incentive for initial investors is in the potential financial and social returns if measurable results are achieved. And, the government pays for only high-performing programs.

According to the Huffington Post, the largest Pay For Success transaction in the world to date recently closed. This seven-year $27 million deal is focused on reducing recidivism and improving employment outcomes for at-risk youth in the Boston, Chelsea and Springfield, Massachusetts areas. Here they are visualizing the program’s performance (also the image above).

The #payforsuccess hashtag appeared over 245,322 times in Twitter timelines in the past week (3/13/2014 – 3/20/2014), and is most influentially used by Goldman SachsPhilanTopic, and LivingCities (according to Hashtracking methodology). It’s showing up in the news too:

When sizing up performance is tricky, has there ever been a more critical time to communicate the quantifiable success of philanthropy?

Metrics are being measured both in the public sector (LouieStat – where the government’s performance in Louisville, Kentucky is made transparent) and in contemporary culture (Feltron’s personal annual reports and his new app). What matters most is choosing the right metrics and the quality of how the results are crafted. This is reiterated at SXSW 2014 and in a recent report by HUGE.

If you are interested in further exploring the Pay for Success model, check out these references:

Between our recent work with the NYC Department of Probation and Pay for Success, we welcome additional resources and conversations regarding data and the criminal justice system. Feel free to reach out to me personally: or shout out to us on Twitter @bureaublank.